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(A group shot of the GoSmokies members who joined us for the hike. Photo courtesy of Frank and Bonnie.)

We have a niche social site called GoSmokies, which was built via Ning for enthusiasts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The site has been around for several years and pretty much moderates itself. I step in when needed, and have volunteer moderators who help me with approving members, managing any vitriolic comments etc.

Yesterday, we had our first GoSmokies group hike. The idea had been tossed around on the site for a while, and finally some members decided to organize the hike. When I learned about the idea, I got involved and had a banner printed and bought trailmix.

My boss, Jack Lail, and I joined the hikers at 9 a.m. in the Greenbrier section of the park. Two trails had been per-determined by the hike leader, Mike Maples, an unofficial park historian. About 25 people joined us (some from out of state).

We did a short 2-mile hike in the morning where we got to see a cemetery of people related to Dolly Parton. After lunch (everyone packed their own lunch), we had a longer, more strenuous hike that involved off-trail hiking and going through briers etc. This group was much smaller, but still as enthusiastic as ever.

I received many thanks from everyone who attended. It was the first time I had gotten to meet these members in person, and it was humbling to learn how much our site had affected them. It was a great example of how a news org can get involved with a niche community and really make an impact. There is talk of the group organizing a potluck in the park sometime soon.